For Rep. Kathy Tallarita, her continued work on a task force aiming to make the state’s liquor laws more consumer friendly is a bittersweet endeavor.
The Enfield lawmaker of 14 years lost her Democratic primary battle to political newcomer David Alexander last Tuesday. Tallarita chalks the loss up to low voter turnout during the August primary and personal divisions within the Enfield town committee.
And while Tallarita was emotional talking about the results of the primary, she was at the Capitol complex Wednesday furthering the work of legislation she fought for some time to get passed.
For years Tallarita has championed efforts in the legislature to legalize the sale of alcohol on Sundays. This year, after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got on board with those efforts a bill was passed that ended the Sunday prohibition and established a task force to tackle liquor pricing issues, which contribute to Connecticut’s alcohol prices being significantly higher than nearby states.
After she adjourned a subcommittee meeting of that task force Wednesday, Tallarita recalled that her efforts to pass the bill began about four years ago after she was approached by a Republican package store owner.
“Sunday sales came up when I was at a Democratic fundraiser and a Republican, Donnie Alaimo, approached me and he said, ‘Why can’t I open my store on a Sunday?’” she said.
Tallarita, who’d heard from other liquor store owners who opposed Sunday sales, answered “Because you don’t want to.”
For many package store owners that was true. Most claimed that opening their shops an additional day would not increase their revenue. Rather the Sunday sales would come from customers who may have purchased their alcohol on Saturday or Monday.
But that logic changes for stores in towns that border other states, where customers can easily cross state lines to buy their booze on Sunday. Alaimo found himself in that camp in the town of Enfield, which sits on the border of Massachusetts.
“‘I’d love to open my business,’” Tallarita said Alaimo told her. “So I said, ‘Okay let me look into it.’”
She said she heard the same sentiment from other package and grocery store owners around town. So Tallarita began proposing bills to end the prohibition but for the first two years they failed to gain traction, in part because former Gov. M. Jodi Rell had indicated she would not sign them.
But when Malloy took office the proposal had a shot at becoming law.
“It kind of got some legs once the governor had committed to signing it,” Tallarita said.
In 2011 the bill died despite the governor’s support in the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee when the committee chairs did not call it for a vote.
Then in January, Malloy proposed his own bill, which allowed Sunday sales but also made a host of other changes to how wine, beer, and liquor are distributed and regulated in the state. The governor said the proposed changes will allow Connecticut to compete with surrounding states in the liquor market.
Lawmakers opted to create the task force, which Tallarita now chairs, to study rather than adopt many of Malloy’s proposals. The group is tasked with making recommendations to the legislature by October.
At a ceremonial bill signing in May, Alaimo said the new law, which is so important to border towns like Enfield, should help Tallarita get re-elected this fall. He scoffed at the mention of a primary opponent.
But when lawmakers next meet for session and an opportunity to act on those recommendations, it will likely be without Tallarita. Still she and the other members of an alcohol subcommittee sat down Wednesday to discuss how Connecticut’s liquor taxes stack up against other states.
Tallarita said she wanted to complete the work of the task force and give her colleagues recommendations for next session that will help consumers.
“It’s my way of kind of seeing it through to the end. And whatever happens next session at this point I don’t have any control over, but hopefully we get some good work out of here that moves us forward,” she said.
Tallarita said she hasn’t ruled out trying to run for her seat on a Working Family Party ballot line. However, she still has questions about the process that will have to wait for the time being.
“I’m getting married in a week and a half so my focus has truly been on that because I’ve been so focused on the primary up until last week,” she said. “We’ve put questions out there but no decisions have been made and I’m not making any until after Sept. 2, which is my wedding.”